I was recently having a conversation with a friend who is interested in learning more about mindfulness and meditation. As we talked, I began to share with her what I know about these topics from the perspective of a yoga teacher and a long-time yoga practitioner. I realized in that moment that there are a variety of ways to help her understand what these terms mean and how she could incorporate them into her life.
I had a fleeting thought to tell her about the many different styles and techniques available for meditation, but I didn’t want to overwhelm her with options. I was tempted to tell her some of the benefits of mindfulness and that this simple practice can become a habit that awakens you to your own life. And in that moment, I decided on the simplest, yet most profound way to help my friend understand these concepts and to give her a tool to begin to become more meditative and mindful.
My epiphany was to encourage her to become more aware of her own breath. This basic thing that our body does on a regular, consistent basis, can be our muse to help us bring meditation and mindfulness into our lives in a real and authentic way.
When teaching children about mindfulness, my simple explanation is to tell them that it means to pay attention to what they are doing in that moment. As a former elementary school teacher and mother of two children, I have told countless children to PAY ATTENTION and FOCUS, but I never really taught them how. Before I discovered mindfulness, I didn't really know how to pay attention myself.
When you stop to acknowledge the myriad of things that are happening to us internally and externally, every second of every day — not to mention our constant commentary about these happenings — it’s truly a miracle that any of us can ever completely pay attention to anything. How can we ever get quiet enough and calm enough and still enough to pay attention to the things and people and details of life going on around us? How can we be MINDFUL about our own lives? How can we find a meditative activity that will keep us grounded and at peace in the ever changing and constantly moving world?
The answer is by becoming increasingly aware of the process of our inhales and our exhales and the rhythm of this natural phenomenon that keeps us alive and in the present moment. It is difficult to deliberately notice your breath while pondering the past or worrying about the future. The breath is happening right here, right now. It can be our anchor to bring us to the point of paying attention to what we are doing, who we are with, and what is happening.
With that in mind, I wrote a poem about this idea. The title of the poem is also a phrase on one of my favorite Cheerful Gear t-shirts.
What matters is this moment when you’re breathing in and out.
Your inhales and your exhales are what life is all about.
Just feel that fresh air coming in, with oxygen — fresh and new.
Let the exhale happen on its own — it’s the natural thing to do.
We very rarely notice or say thank you to our breath.
Yet, it’s with us and sustains us from our birth until our death.
It ties us to this moment we are living in right now.
It anchors us. It tethers us. It shows us all somehow …
… that the moment we are living in, just like the air we breathe,
is a blessed thing, a treasure and a gift we all receive.